Featured Funeral Director: ARKA Original Funerals 0

ARKA Original Funeral Directors

ARKA Original Funerals is an extremely well-regarded funeral directors with two branches in Brighton. On Beyond alone, they have as many as 10 5* reviews, and they have twice been honoured in the Good Funeral Awards, styled as the UK funeral industry’s Oscars. In 2014 ARKA was named ‘Best Funeral Director,’ and just last week ARKA was recognised with the ‘Best Care of the Deceased’ award.


Check out real reviews, get accurate pricing and contact the Surrey Street branch here, and the Islingword Road branch here.

ARKA Original Funerals


Interested in finding out what exactly goes into running a funeral home which is recommended so highly by both bereaved families and the industry, we spoke with Cara Mair, owner, founder and funeral director.


What’s the story of ARKA?

I got into the funeral business in 1998, after my mother died. I started working in a traditional funeral directors in Brighton. It seemed really obvious to me at the time that there was very little by way of choice being presented to families, and very little by way of support for those who wanted a greater degree of involvement in the funeral arrangements.


Eventually I’d gathered enough experience to be able to open up ARKA, which we did in 2003. We offer a more bespoke and natural way of supporting people through the whole funeral process.


So it was enabling choice that you felt was lacking at the traditional funeral directors?

Well at that time in particular, it felt like it was more about making money and profit margins than it was about care for the deceased, and supporting bereaved families.


Some families will need more support and some less, but sometimes funeral directors are not the most welcoming of establishments. You look at the way in which they can dress, the way in which they sometimes decorate their funeral homes…the windows are often shrouded in dusty, velvet curtains, there’s a tombstone on display…my hunch is that a lot of people are going to be fearful of what they’ll find inside, and will rush through the arrangement process just because they want to get out of that dark and dreary place.


What we try to do at ARKA is to create a space where people can feel as comfortable as they can, where they can meet and speak to normal people about the person who they’re arranging a funeral for. The whole process is very relaxed, it’s an open discussion. I don’t want to blow our own trumpet, but I think we’re very good at listening to people and what they want. We don’t bombard them with information, but present it based on their unique requirements. We make a point of booking in two, two and a half hours for the initial meeting because you never know where the conversation will go.


Seems as though you try to make the difficult process of arranging a funeral a little gentler for people in a vulnerable frame of mind.

We try to slow the process down for people, to give them room to think about each option in a more considered way, rather than pressuring them to make all of their decisions then and there. In our opinion, this is a far better way of guiding someone through the funeral arrangement process. Quite often the family will need to think about the money aspect, and not least what was most important to the person who died, and this can take some time.


Looking at your website, you all seem very colourfully dressed. This chimes with what you were saying about moving away from the ingrained expectations of a funeral director.

Well, we’re very respectful. We just don’t believe that wearing dark clothes or uniform suits is a way to show respect. We act respectfully by being ourselves, and trusting that this comes across in a transparent and unguarded way. We couldn’t pretend to be someone that we’re not.


All of us here, there’s eight of us now, are proud of what we’ve achieved.

ARKA Original Funeral Directors


You’ve twice been recognised for your work at the Good Funeral Awards. What goes into winning an award?

The Good Funeral Awards are awarded based on customer feedback and on testimonials from within the industry. This all comes from many different places, and it was fantastic for my colleague Sarah Clarke-Kent to win Best Funeral Director in 2014, and also to win an award for Best Care of the Deceased this time round. This year was actually the first time that this particular category was in place, and it replaced ‘Embalmer of the Year,’ which made it especially satisfying for us as chemical embalming is something that we just don’t do.


Why don’t you embalm?

We just don’t agree with it. We know it’s a very invasive procedure that uses horrible and carcinogenic chemicals. If a body is looked after well then there’s no reason to embalm and families can still be involved. It’s also an extra cost for the family. Embalming is only needed if bodies are repatriated overseas.


You place a lot of emphasis on family involvement, in terms of dressing and washing the deceased, for example. Do you find that this is something that families are interested in, generally speaking?

If families across the board knew that this was something they could get involved in I think many people might be keen to know more. The trouble is that people don’t even know that this is a possibility, which doesn’t allow them to make informed decisions.


It’s often only after the funeral that people realise that they could have done things differently, and that’s a real shame. That’s why we try and slow down the process, so that families can decide on their level of involvement, and how the funeral will work.


There’s a lot out there now with people who have had negative experiences arranging a funeral and it’s great that there is now a move towards claiming death back for society, where people are caring for their dead, as they do for those who are unwell. This can have a hugely beneficial effect on the grieving process.


The funeral industry in the UK is still very much powered by the big boys, the large chains, and it’s down to us as a society to make bereaved families aware of their options, and how much they’re often being taken for a ride. We need to empower each other to be asking these questions – can I see the body, can I dress the body, what do your fees include, and so on.


How have you approached your pricing?

You don’t need a funeral director. If you are engaging a funeral director, you should be getting something from them that you can’t or don’t want to do yourself. Sometimes funeral directors actually do very little for the money that is charged. We aim to work in an open way, clearly stating costings and how people can save money.


There’s no objective measures for what is ‘a fantastic job,’ what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ from a funeral. It’s important to ensure that each family is being approached as per their needs, but ensuring that they are receiving dignified, respectful funeral support in accordance with their wishes and taking into account the funds that are available.


ARKA specialises in natural funerals. If someone wanted a more traditional funeral, would you facilitate this?

Absolutely. We are able to support on burial, cremation, direct cremation, no-service funerals through to highly organised, religious services of any faith. We will make sure that the family understands that they have choices. There are only two things that we won’t do: embalming, and wearing top hats. We will dress smartly of course but prefer to blend in, just wearing our ARKA brooches. I do think that if someone wants embalming and top hats then they won’t choose ARKA anyway.


Are there any particularly memorable funerals that you’ve arranged at ARKA?

Some of the most memorable are the most simple, beautiful and quiet ones, with just a few people there. A very intimate affair. Others are larger, with steam rollers carrying the coffin. It’s horses for courses really! We support many funerals and of course some funerals resonate more with us than others.


I suppose every funeral is memorable in its own way.

It should be memorable for the people who are grieving. We are there in a professional capacity, and it’s more important to us that the family and friends find the service memorable. We’re not doing it for us, we’re doing it for them.


Why did you sign up to Beyond?

I think in many ways it’s driven by the market. People are looking online now, and if someone can find us and feels that we are more suitable for them than someone else, then that’s a good thing.


Thanks for your time, Cara, and congratulations once again on your win at the Good Funeral Awards!

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Behind the Scenes at Scattering Ashes 0

The team from Scattering Ashes hold up a mini Viking funeral boat.

With cremations now accounting for an impressive 76% of all funerals in the UK, more and more families are looking for creative – or even spectacular – things to do with their loved one’s ashes.

That’s where Scattering Ashes come in. Founded in 2009 by Richard Martin, this incredibly comprehensive site aims to help its visitors find the perfect way to say goodbye, whether that be a peaceful seaside scattering or going out with a bang in an ambitious firework display.

This month, we caught up with Richard to talk about scattering techniques, Viking funerals – and why you don’t want to leave ashes at Jane Austen’s house.

Hi Richard! Thanks for the interview. How did Scattering Ashes come to be?

Ashes being scattered from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth
Richard and the team can help you scatter ashes from a vintage wartime Tiger Moth plane, among other things.

I worked for the Environment Agency and DEFRA for many years, and it was looking like it might be time to change career. So, I thought, ‘What would I like to do?’

I’d scattered my dad’s ashes years before, and felt that we were left a bit at sea because the funeral directors didn’t have any information. We scattered his ashes at his golf course, and we weren’t made to feel very welcome when we went there –  and we certainly weren’t made to feel welcome when we wanted to go back. It all just felt a bit unsatisfactory.

So, I had the idea that perhaps I could help people by providing information about scattering ashes, because there was nothing out there online. I started blogging and then the business grew from there.

A Viking Longboat urn from Scattering Ashes
The Viking longboat urn from Scattering Ashes actually floats.

What’s your favourite scattering method on the site at the moment?

One thing that seems to have hit a chord with people is the Viking boat.

We do an almost metre-long Viking boat that holds a full set of ashes. You can set it afloat, set it on fire, and it goes up in a blaze of glory. We’ve tested them, and they’re pretty cool, I have to say. When we’ve seen them set sail, they’ve looked amazing! I quite like the fireworks too.

Why do you think people are looking for more exciting things to do with ashes now?

I think society has become more accepting of death. I also think that the old religious practices don’t suit as many people these days – maybe you don’t necessarily want a vicar speaking at your funeral because he never really knew you, and you’re not religious in the first place. And more people are thinking, ‘Well, actually, I don’t want that sort of faux-Victoriana, I want a bit more of a celebratory approach to my life’.

Ashes are scattered directly into someone's face in this scene from The Big Lebowski.
That scene from The Big Lebowski.

You run courses on scattering ashes for funeral directors. Do you have any top tips for a successful scattering?

Mind the wind is my main one.

There’s that scene in The Big Lebowski.

Exactly. Another is to be safe: a chap died last year scattering ashes after he got washed off shore in Cornwall, and the year before that a couple died in Spain doing it, and the year before that a lady fell off a cliff doing it in Ireland. Don’t go to these extreme places, because you’re putting yourself in danger.

A biodegradable water urn shaped like a turtle
This floating turtle urn from Scattering Ashes is completely biodegradable.

The third thing is probably to be aware of the amount of ashes. People tend to think it’s going to be light. In movies, like The Big Lebowski for example, there’s literally a few handfuls. But in reality, there’s something like six pounds of ashes.

So, people often end up scattering for quite a while, then they upend the urn and get this little conical pile of ashes, and it looks odd. Then they realise, ‘Oh god, we’ve got nothing to move it around with,’ and they’re using their feet, and then they go, ‘This is undignified.’

But with a bit of thought, you can make it quite a poignant, memorable ceremony, which is what we try to educate people about.

You keep a (really very comprehensive) record of places that allow scattering – do people often say no?

More and more often, now. When we first started a lot of football clubs were saying yes, and now many say no. Some are trying to cater for it with memorial gardens instead: they realise the demand, but they don’t want it impacting the pitch.

The more people scatter ashes in one place, the more troublesome they find it?

Jane Austen's house in Chawton
Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, where visitors have been asked to stop secretly scattering ashes. Image by Joaotg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Absolutely. Two particular places come to mind. One is the top of Ben Nevis: a lot of Scots will have their ashes scattered at the top of Ben Nevis. The ecosystem up there is relatively fragile – mosses and lichens. It might look barren, but it’s not.

Ashes are rich in calcium and phosphorus, so when you put a lot of ashes there, you’re changing the ecology of the place. So, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has asked people to stop scattering at the summit.

They had to put a press release out for Jane Austen’s house because people were sneaking over the wall at night and upending the urns on the weekend. The gardener might come back on Monday morning and find three piles of ashes that had been dumped, and of course, a rose bed can only take so much.

A panoramic view from Ben Nevis, where people are no longer supposed to scatter ashes.
The view from Ben Nevis. Image by Leo Hoogendijk courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You won Best Bereavement Resource at the Good Funeral Awards in 2015 – what’s your secret?

Honesty, really. I try not to be partisan, and to look at both sides and just use the facts. I don’t have any particular drum to beat about this; I think people should have the right to choose what they do with ashes, as long as it doesn’t impact others. Also, it’s pretty comprehensive: I’ve phoned up and emailed virtually everyone. There must be getting on to 800 posts on there now.

Impressive! And what’s next for Scattering Ashes?

We’re offering training courses for funeral directors and crematoria staff and celebrants, which is new. We’ll also be increasing our trade offer, putting wholesale options on the site. And we now have a sister site here called My Pet’s Ashes, which offers similar services for pet owners, because they’re part of the family too.

If you’d like to find out more about Scattering Ashes, head on over to the site at www.scattering-ashes.co.uk. And if you have your own ash scattering story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 1

Glassmaker Kenny Scott of Ash Glass Design.

Pendant with flecks and swirls in the glass made from the ashes of someone who has died

What do you see when you look at this pendant? To the untrained eye, it might look like … a pendant. But to those in the know, it’s something unusual, and completely unique: those flecks and swirls in the glass are made from the ashes of someone who has died.

In fact, the necklace is just one item in a range of mourning jewellery and sculpture created by glassmaker Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass Design. Based in the picturesque village of Clovenfords in the Scottish Borders, Kenny and co. craft bespoke cremation glass jewellery for families who want a subtle way to carry their loved one’s ashes with them.

So, how does one become a cremation glassmaker, exactly, and how is cremation glass actually made? To find out more about this relatively new answer to the question of what to do with ashes, we had a chat with Kenny …


How did Ash Glass Design get started?

Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass DesignKenny began his career at the tender age of 16, leaving school to take on a five-year apprenticeship in making glass from scratch. 20 years later, he was creating glasswork for museums and clients when he received an unusual request:

“One of my friends who’s a funeral director approached me and asked if I would make a memorial pendant for someone using ashes”, Kenny told Beyond. While at first Kenny wasn’t sure (he describes it as “a wee bit of a Marmite moment”) the family was so pleased with the result that he immediately realised that he wanted to do it again.

“After I made the pendant and met the family, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when making something for someone”, Kenny explained. “They were so happy, and it’s such a precious thing that you’re making for them, that I thought, ‘Oh, I really like doing this.’

“Basically, that was it: I put a wee range together, and from there it’s kind of grown. I love doing it.”

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it.”

Why do people like cremation jewellery?

CreAsh Glass Design's cremation glass mourning ringmation jewellery isn’t for everyone ­– but while some find the concept morbid, others like the idea of keeping a loved one close in a subtle way. “I speak to all the customers, and I think for them the nicest thing is the fact that they can have their loved one with them all the time, and it’s not in your face. It doesn’t have a big sign saying what it is – it’s just a lovely piece of jewellery”, Kenny said.

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it. Everybody says that they get so much comfort out of having it.”

In Ash Glass Design’s range, rings are the most popular option: “Somebody said to me, it’s like they’re still holding my hand.

“We do lots for weddings as well, my goodness. For somebody who has maybe lost a parent, it’s like [their loved one] can be there on their wedding day. It’s a lovely way to have them with you.”

“There’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt.”

How is cremation glass jewellery made?

Making cremation jewelleryThe process of making cremation glass jewellery is long and somewhat delicate, with great care taken to make sure the right ashes (“labelled, bagged, boxed, bagged again”, Kenny reports) are used.

At Ash Glass Design, everything is made in-house. After a discussion with the family about the design, Kenny melts their required colour of glass to make a base. He then carefully adds the ashes before sealing it over with clear glass to make a perfect finished surface.

After some time spent in the kiln – it takes a day and a half to gradually cool the hot glass down – the glass is polished down with diamond tools and set into the gold or silver using a traditional technique. Any ashes left over are returned to the family along with the finished piece.

“You have to know the procedures for cooling glass down, how to heat it up, how compatible it is with other materials, so it’s quite a wee science on its own,” Kenny said, adding that “there’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt. You’re always making new designs as well, to stretch the boundaries a bit.”

“I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them”

Do you take requests?

Because Ash Glass Design is a small company (Kenny, his wife Emma and “amazing” goldsmith Joanna) the team are able to take requests to make each piece of glass unique: “If somebody wants a bespoke colour in their jewellery, we never charge any extra … We do what we can to help folk get what they want. If [a customer] wants something to be adapted somehow, then we look into it for them”, Kenny explained.

“Sometimes it’s not as feasible as they might think initially, but we can talk them through it, and find the best option for them.”

Customers appreciate this personal service: “I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them. Even a couple of years down the road, we still get them phoning back, asking how we are. It’s lovely.”

Want to find out more about Ash Glass Design? Check out their website, www.ashglassdesign.co.uk, give the team a ring on 01896 850447, or contact Kenny at [email protected]

About mourning jewellery …

A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold.
A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold. Image by Charles J Sharp, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mourning jewellery dates back as far as the 1600s, when stern memento mori-themed rings (‘remember that you must die’) were gradually overtaken by more personal tokens of grief. Examples from the British Museum demonstrate how gruff messages like “learn to dye” were replaced by kinder tributes, such as “not lost but gone before” and “not dead but sleepeth”.

At its peak in the Victorian era, mourning jewellery was worn as part of a strict dress code for the bereaved. Mourning rings were joined by broaches and lockets, and were often made with jet (a precious stone that, being black, was thought to be mourning period-appropriate). Many contained a lock of the hair from the person who had died, or a miniature portrait.

Popularity eventually declined as life expectancy increased – by World War One, mourning jewellery was out of vogue. But the desire shared by bereaved families for physical mementos of their loved ones never really went away.

Now, the rise in cremation – 70% of people in the UK choose it over burial – and increasing openness about death are leading to a rise in interest, with companies like Ash Glass Design offering a more contemporary take.